Whole Brain Living

You might remember Jill Bolte Taylor, whose 2008 presentation “My Stroke of Insight” (see below) was the first TED talk to go viral. At age 37, Dr. Taylor was a Harvard neuroanatomist studying the brain’s role in mental illness when she suffered a massive hemorrhage that shut down the functioning of her brain’s left hemisphere. It took her eight years to heal, and since then, she has shared her profound experiential discoveries about the brain.

In her most recent book, Whole Brain Living, Dr. Taylor explains that our brain has four major areas that communicate with each other, yet show up as four distinct personalities. Each of these areas serves a crucial function, but we are usually oriented to some more than others. Dr. Taylor encourages us to get to know these aspects of ourselves, and then to have “brain huddles” to increase brain integration and access our best functioning.

Her book and this interview (click here) offer more detailed descriptions of these brain regions, but here are some basics:

  • Left Thinking Brain (left frontal lobes): Handles your to-do list, is logical and conceptual; plans, strategizes, analyzes, critiques; remembers the past, anticipates the future; uses language and experiences you as a separate individual.
  • Left Feeling Brain (left limbic system): Watches for threats, feels vulnerable; remembers past hurts, anticipates future harm; feels lonely, separate and insecure.
  • Right Feeling Brain (right limbic system): Is only aware of the present moment; is focused on your here-and-now sensory experience; is curious, playful and reactive; feels connected to other people and the environment. Joy lives here.
  • Right Thinking Brain (right frontal lobes): Has insights without language through intuition and visualization; is spiritual and interconnected with humanity and the universe. Wonder and awe live here.

My Left Thinking Brain is working hard this morning to craft this piece for you. When I get stuck—my Left Feeling Brain worried about conveying these ideas poorly—I shift to my Right Feeling Brain, breathe and look out the window, orienting to the blue sky, the sunlight streaming in, and the wind dancing through the leaves on the trees. This relaxation enables my Right Thinking Brain to show me the next idea, and now my Left Thinking Brain is back to work putting this image into words for you.

Consider each of your brain regions. For most people, one or two parts show up most often and other parts are less developed. By connecting with and appreciating each part of your brain, you can thrive by accessing Whole Brain Living.

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